The Fayetteville Museum of Art demonstrated valiant resolve to keep its doors open during a shaky economy and amid criticism. Committed to its mission in the face of public scrutiny, the museum was dependent on donations and support from the community to survive.
After the museum published the blueprint of their contemporary building to be built in Festival Park, the drama began and has played out in the local newspapers. From the whine of frisbee enthusiasts who wanted open space in Festival Park, to City Councilman Theodore Mohn initiating the City’s Task Force to review the museum’s financial records in 2008, the drama unfolded publicly.
All the speculation, criticism, fingerpointing and innuendo ended when the museum announced it would have to close it doors on May 31, 2010 due to the lack of financial support to sustain the operation.
The Fayetteville Observer’s coverage of the situation culminated in a lengthy article (“Why Did the Museum Fail?” 5/30/2010) which highlighted some of the events that have taken place since the museum opened in 1971. The time line in the article skipped many years during the museum’s history, picking up the story in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The above article noted two obstacles that prevented large financial support of the museum —a grant from the Arts Council and the possible support of a bill by Senator Tony Rand to support of the museum’s new building. Both did not take place.
I think the statement in the Observer’s article by one of the city’s task force members, George Breece, says it all, “Museum officials were slow to understand there had been a political shift against the park location.”
How could the museum know the political shift had changed after they were given two acres in Festival Park in April 2007? They proceeded to have a renowned architect design a stunning contemporary building.
It’s all debatable — people who are interested in the arts, either for political reasons or for their affection of the arts, have an opinion about the “political shift” and any contributing factors that contributed to the museum closing.
For me, after much reflection, I see it as a long story. If chapters in the story had been scripted different, we would have a different ending.
First and foremost, an art museum in Fayetteville will always have a difficult task to support itself until more large donors come to the table consistently. Not only big donors, but it is also the responsibility of all art advocates in the community to buy a membership, participate in the events and buy art from the museum, the museum store and from local artists.
Support of the museum was so much more than going to a Fayetteville After Five event. It’s an annual, monthly commitment to being a part of making a museum possible, making the arts possible.
Those members of the community who have given large sums of money for support and for those of you who have regularly given what you could, you are the reason the museum was able to hold on as long as it did. Without you, the museum could not have existed since 1971.
For those who are interested in the arts, didn’t contribute to its operation, but thought others would make the museum an art venue for the community and the museum would always be there — well, here we are. It’s a part of the story, a chapter that could have been scripted differently with a lot more support from members in the community.
Then there was the 2004 chapter when plans were in place for a building at the opening to Festival Park. We covered it in Up and Coming Weekly; we fought the fight for the museum to find its new home where the Lundy Building now stands. The museum was strong, the economy was strong, the downtown was hot with investors, and was poised for the museum to move to Festival Park.
Again, politics thwarted the move for the museum. The Downtown Development Corporation presented the Lundy Group building to the City of Fayetteville; their reasons for not accepting the PennMark proposal (which included the museum of art) was simply “it did not meet the requirements for new projects downtown” (“DDC Already Answers Questions”, Up and Coming Weekly, November 24-30, 2004).
John Malzone, successful downtown real estate agent and developer, stated the following in reference to the choice between the Lundy Building and the PennMark proposal: “To select other projects (the Lundy proposal) because of political pressure would send a terrible signal to the investment community” (Fayetteville Observer, 11/28/04).
The Lundy proposal boasted about its plans “to construct a building that would have shops and restaurants on the fi rst fl oor and offi ces on the second and third floor (Fayetteville Observer, August 14, 2004). The Lundy building was selected and built (details of what it cost the city are not included here). Those plans were never fulfilled.
In the article titled “Festival Park and the FMA: Red Flags are Flying”, (Up and Coming, December 8-14, 2004) the red flags were clearly listed and they all came true: “doubts about the DDC’s lack of sensitivity to the Renaissance Plan for an arts complex downtown” and “do we have such a poor image of ourselves (as a city) that we think developers will be interested in us (Fayetteville) if we hand over prime real estate right next to a park which is being developed by the city.”
We can nit-pick all the details between the DDC and city council’s decisions, not having the foresight to see the Fayetteville Museum of Art where the Lundy building stands in 2004. Now I hear people in 2010 say: “Wouldn’t it be a great idea for the Fayetteville Museum of Art to purchase the Lundy building?” Great idea, but the support of the idea is just six years too late for our community.
In the end, the Fayetteville Museum of Art has made a significant impact on this community over the years and there are many people in the community who have helped to keep them operational.
Thank you to those who made the museum possible, and to Tom Grubb, Michele Horn and the entire staff at the Fayetteville Museum of Art for all the years you tirelessly spearheaded so many amazing exhibits every month, over and over again, year after year, for the people of Fayetteville and the region; for giving so many children an opportunity to engage in the arts in your youth programs.
When I think of the Fayetteville Museum of Art, I remember the quality it ascribed to, paintings that would wow you as you walked into the gallery, sculpture installations that brought awe, photographs, prints and sculptures that made a difference for so many, for so many years. I will remember all the wonderful receptions hosted by the museum, the quality of their intent and dedication, moments where you could meet and mingle with individuals who knew the value of the arts.
The negative affects of not having a museum of art are immediate, but it will also have harmful far reaching effects. What it says about our community as a whole is not positive. The Fayetteville Museum of Art, like the arts in Fayetteville, was always a fragile gem in our community. Over the years, it needed to be protected by the many, not just the few. An Artist’s Perspective on the Museum Closing